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Black Power in 1996 and the Demonization of African Americans

  • Michael C. Dawson (a1)

The cry of “Black Power” shook American society three decades ago. “Black Power” was a slogan that energized a generation of young African Americans, troubled their elders such as Dr. King (who agreed with many of the goals, but saw the slogan itself as divisive), and appalled the great majority of whites. As seriously as the slogan divided blacks, the intra-racial gap was small compared to the inter-racial gap as Aberbach and Walker documented in the pages of the APSR decades ago (1970). Blacks and whites understood black power to represent very different concepts. Where blacks understood the concept to mean either fairness or black unity, whites saw the slogan as representing blacks' demand that white supremacy be replaced with black supremacy.

It has been nearly thirty years since our colleague Charles V. Hamilton co-authored the extremely influential Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America with Stokely Charmichael (1967). They forcibly argued that “before a group can enter the open society, it must first close ranks.” (Charmichael and Hamilton 1967, 44, emphasis in original). However, blacks generally rejected nationalist programs and opted as they had in the past for what many such as Guinier have labeled a civil rights agenda (Guinier 1994). Instead of rejecting traditional politics, black empowerment strategies embraced during the 1970s by both integrationist and nationalist forces concentrated on the electoral arena. Black power moved from confrontations in the streets and on college campuses into the electoral arena during this period. This “New Black Politics” was celebrated by many blacks and whites inside the academy. The “new” electoral successes were heralded as representing true black power, the institutionalization of the mass movement, the exercise of power in the real policy forums of the nation.

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PS: Political Science & Politics
  • ISSN: 1049-0965
  • EISSN: 1537-5935
  • URL: /core/journals/ps-political-science-and-politics
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